Training camp practices for the Buffalo Bills have always been things I’ve been interested in, but as a fan from the Hudson Valley, it’s never been terribly practical to come up to camp. However, when the opportunity arose this year to make the trek, I couldn’t turn it down. After watching the Bills in person today, I’m glad I didn’t tell Matt no.
The Bills were efficient, organized, and sharp in all facets of the game today. The reports about quarterback Josh Allen’s great practice are not over-exaggerated. The second-year man was dropping dimes all over the field at St. John Fisher College this morning, showing touch on deep balls (and even on some intermediate ones!) and a great feel for the offense. The revamped offensive line looked great. The running backs and receivers looked like legitimate NFL weapons.
All of this took place against the Bills’ starting defense, which acquitted itself well on multiple occasions. Initial run-game install, for example, was where the defense dominated, especially when the team worked on running inside. It wasn’t until they started working on off-tackle runs that the offense started to shine.
I’m often accused of being too positive, but really, this team looked fantastic in its first practice in full pads for the year. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll repeated a phrase mutliple times in his press conference this morning, saying that the offense as a whole had to learn to “see the game though the same set of eyes,” and the early returns suggest that the team is well on its way to doing just that.
Here are some stray bullet-point observations from the morning:
- Cody Ford is a MAN at RT. Even when he’s beaten, he does a nice job recovering and using his reach to knock rushers deep/outside. On one play-action pass, Murphy beat him initially, but Ford was able to shove him to make him go upfield, allowing Allen to step up and loft a beautiful pass downfield to John Brown
- Speaking of Brown...whoa. This guy runs the whole route tree brilliantly, and he does a fantastic job adjusting to the ball in the air. His seek-and-find skills are something the Bills have been sorely missing over the last many years. He caught a few perfectly-placed balls downfield from Allen, but he also adjusted beautifully on a duck that went to his inside shoulder while he was running outside. He made the catch over his shoulder while falling to the ground.
- Devin Singletary is going to be really good. His patience is outstanding, and his feet never stop. On a few runs, he just disappeared in the offensive line before shooting out five yards down the field. Agility? Watching him go through the cut drills on the sidelines was a thing of beauty. He looks like someone who has the physical tools to contribute immediately at the NFL level. How quickly he picks up the mental side will dictate his role.
- I’ve been talking about LeSean McCoy’s demise for a while now, and I want to say how wrong I was after watching him in person. He is in impeccable shape and he still is quick. He looked decisive in his cuts today, doing much less dancing and taking what the defense gave him when holes quickly closed. He also offers such great receiving ability out of the backfield that I think he’ll come back just fine with a better line in front of him. He caught a beautiful ball on a wheel route out of a cool formation the team worked out (more on that later).
- If you told me that Frank Gore is 26, and I didn’t know he’s actually 36, I’d believe you. That dude is in crazy good shape. Still hits the hole hard. Still finds lanes. Still catches the ball well.
- Josh Allen was dropping dimes all over the field. He threw the ball well going deep, he threw the ball well over the middle, he threw it well short to the outside, and he threw it well under pressure. He was awesome all day. During one-on-one drills with the receivers and the corners, the wideouts struggled to separate a bit from jams, which caused the timing of the routes to be off a bit. That didn’t seem to be a problem when the 11-on-11 session took place.
- Allen also showed some great leadership throughout the practice. At one point, Victor Bolden Jr. shifted illegally, and Allen was angry, letting Bolden know about it with some profanity. Whenever rookie Tyree Jackson made a good play, the loudest congratulatory voice was Allen’s. Side note—the ball just comes out of their hands differently. Both Allen and Jackson are working with absolute Howitzers for arms. They’re also two of the biggest human beings I’ve ever seen. Jackson, in particular, is huge.
- At one point, Coach Sean McDermott stopped a play before it began so that he could tell the offense about a key that he’d seen. Singletary hit a touchdown on the play, and Jerry Hughes was not having it. He was mad (really mad) that Coach had allowed the offense to reset when Hughes was reading his keys.
- Offensive line looked good. Allen saw some pressure, but the group in front of him kept the rush off him, allowing him to hit on some big passes.
- There were some misses on Allen’s part--he was way low on a slant off an RPO, then he missed Beasley high on an out from the slot. He rebounded nicely, though, by lofting a beautiful pass to Tommy Sweeney in double-coverage immediately after those two throws. Sweeney leaped high in the air to make the grab, displaying great athleticism and soft hands.
- One fun formation note that I saw--at one point, the team was going out there with 3 tight ends, 1 running back, and 1 receiver. The tight ends (Knox, Smith, Sweeney) were bunched just off the left tackle, with Andre Roberts slot right and a running back wide right. The back motioned into the backfield, the receiver ran a slant, and the running back went out and ran a wheel. That’s the play McCoy gained big yardage on with a beautiful Allen touch pass.
- The team also worked quite a bit on a jet sweep set with Roberts. Sometimes Allen two-hand flicked it to him, sometimes he faked it and hit Beasley on a quick out, sometimes he faked it and hit the running back in the flat, and sometimes he faked it and went deep.
- Lots of formations looking to spread the defense horizontally by taking big-guys (tight ends and fullback Patrick DiMarco) and spreading them out wide. This dragged linebackers out of the middle, which gave Beasley more room to operate underneath.
- Brian Daboll’s creativity is really exciting. This is, without a doubt, the most talented offense he’s had the chance to work with at the NFL level, and you can see how excited he is in everything he does on the field. This guy is a great coach, and he is going to be a great head coach sometime soon—just hopefully not too soon.
- Levi Wallace was the second corner for most of the day, and he acquitted himself well. He made some plays on deep balls, knocking down a slightly underthrown would-be touchdown at one point when Robert Foster had to slow down.
- Kevin Johnson had a good day in the team portion of practice, but at one point Cole Beasley ran him into the ground--literally--in the one-on-one stuff. Beasley is a masterful route-runner.
- During the last session, Dion Dawkins and Quinton Spain, the starters for the rest of the day at LT and LG, respectively, were replaced by Ty Nsekhe outside and Spencer Long at guard. Add in Mitch Morse at center, Jon Feliciano at right guard, and Ford at right tackle, and it appears that you have the team’s top-seven offensive linemen.
- The punting competition was very one-sided, with Corey Bojorquez looking significantly better than Cory Carter. Carter dropped a snap at one point, and his punts were consistently shorter than Bojorquez’s. Bojorquez has the better hang time, he punts better with clutter around him, and he was just so much more consistent than Carter.
- Stephen Hauschka looked like Stephen Hauschka, not the guy who was injured at the end of last season wearing Stephen Hauschka’s jersey. That allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief!
I’ll be at tomorrow’s practice, as well, so if there is anything in particular that you would like a report on that you aren’t seeing, let me know in the comments section and I’ll try to give it a look!